Archive for the ‘Law’ Category
So I had a bit of a read this week around some of the philosophy texts. There are a number of different ways of interpreting or describing how philosophy is divided up into a discipline. This is, I suppose, a consequence of what philosophy is like in general. Philosophers hardly ever agree on anything, even when it comes to describing what it is that they do. Some people think that all of philosophy can be divided into two basic categories: realism, and the rest. Realism is the view that there is stuff that is real. The rest is, well, lots of other things. However this way of dividing up philosophy is controversial. The Cambridge philosopher Siumon Blackburn for instance in his book ‘Think’ suggests that it is perhaps not very helpful to divide up philosophy as a disicipline into these neat little categories. It is rather too dependent on the ability to taxonomise the arguments that are actually made. But there is no objectively correct way to do this that everyone can agree on. A philosopher’s job is to think about stuff. No wonder they can never agree on anything, including their own job description!
An alternative way of dividing up philosophy is to describe the different kinds of subjects that philosophers look at. This taxonomical approach has the advantage that it does not try to divide up philosophical approaches according to the arguments that are made: it is merely divided up by subject, not by the views taken on that subject. For instance, we might say that there are philosophers interested in questions of epistemology (knowledge), logic, politics, aesthetics, metaphysics, morality, and so on. This way of dividing it up does not say anything about what views the philosophers are taking on these different questions. So you could have the realists and the non-realists all lumped together into one category: the question of logic, say. However there are also problems with this way of describing philosophy as a discipline. Many of these areas overlap into each other, and there doesn’t seem to be any particularly objective reason, other than the causal whim of the observer, why we would divide these categories up in this particular way rather than any other.
From a personal perspective, I am inclined to describe the subject of philosophy in the way that it is often divided up in the university faculties, and the way that it is often divided up in the textbooks. You have things like philosophy of religion, philosophy of science, philosophy of language, philosophy of politics, philosophy of history, and so on. The discipline doesn’t have to be divided up this way necessarily; it just happens to be that it often is.
The particular area of philosophy that I am really interested in for this course is philosophy of law, and especially how this speaks to the internet. To some extent internet is still in its formative period. This is a time when internet legislative and constitutional precedent does not yet exist for the most part. So now is our opportunity to try to make decisions about what these precedents should look like. This is an area that I have never studied before and while there is a large amount of literature of philosophers commenting on law and legal procedures (sometimes known as jurisprudence) I do not know whether there is any substantial commentary by philosophers on internet law specifically. I did find one book by the philosopher Gordan Graham, ‘The Internet: A Philosophical Enquiry’. The book is quite out of date unfortunately (1999) but it is the only text I have been able to find so far on this subject. In general I liked the book and would recommend it. It is reasonably well written, though it is very wide-ranging and swings from one thing to another. But I think this is OK. Graham talks a little about the history of the internet, some of the technical aspects (not so relevant now perhaps) and puts this in the context of the history of technological development generally. Then he really lets it rip and has lots of fun talking about obscure and pretty much unrelated things like democracy and the internet (offering a dashing sweeping critique of democracy along the way), the nature of reality (is the internet a new form of ‘the real’?) and questions of the changing human experience (what has internet done to human individuality and community?). While this does seem a little bit all over the place, I think there are many really interesting ideas in here. The main point I take away from the book is the question of: to what extent should law on the web be different from law in the ‘real’ world (by which I mean the world off the web)? I mean, laws in the non-webby world are supposed to legislate over non-webby things, right. But the question is, how great is the disparity between webby stuff and non-webby stuff? And how great is the disparity between webby law and non-webby law? At this early stage, I am inclined towards the view that perhaps the disparity is a very big one indeed, much bigger than we had thought. This is something that we should probably find quite disconcerting. Do we need a set of laws for the ‘real’ world, and another set of laws for the virtual world that we have created?
Have just been reading up on the Digital Economy Act, and its various ramifications. I have created a scribble that seems to me to show one of the key points – that only jumped out at me as I was doodling – that once again, the web has made Januses of us. I think that most of us are both copyright holders and copyright ‘acquirers.’
And in this case, the ISPs aren’t necessarily bad – if you are a struggling writer, musician or artist then if they are called upon to help you protect what you would think of as yours, you’re not really going to complain. (Speaking as someone whose household gets to buy stuff from royalties coming in from the British Performing Society.) However, most struggling artists, musicians and writers are (perhaps because they’re struggling , perhaps because it’s part of the creative process), also avid ‘collectors’ of what they might not necessarily have paid for… Obviously the issue is far more complex than this.
Certainly BT and TalkTalk have requested the review because of concerns about privacy (n.b. BT and TalkTalk took up a diametrically opposite stance on this very issue when it came down to Phorm and RIPA - perhaps they are now more wary of some of these issues). It certainly brings to the fore the issue of what is property on the web, what is private property on the web, and how far a government should allow intrusion into people’s lives in order to monitor or recover what might be defined as private.
John Stuart Mill wrote:
‘The things once there…mankind, individually or collectively, can do with them as they please. They can place them at the disposal of whomsoever they please, and on whatever terms…Even what a person has produced by his individual toil, unaided by anyone, he cannot keep, unless by the permission of society. Not only can society take it from him, but individuals could and would take it from him, if society…did not…employ and pay people for the purpose of preventing him from being disturbed in his possession..’ (From Heilbroner, p.129).
Mill saw that the principle of private property had not had a fair trial, and that reform could make changes to outdated laws, without recourse to outright revolution. He feared that Communism would stifle individual thinking and feared ‘whether there would be any asylum left for individuality of character; whether public opinion would not be a tyrannical yoke; whether the absolute dependence of each on all, and the surveillance of each by all, would not grind all down into a tame uniformity of thoughts, feelings, and actions…no society in which eccentricity is a matter of reproach can be in a wholesome state.’ (Heilbroner, .p132).
The doodle is JUST a doodle, it’s not good graphic design and it’s very messy.
I’m currently reading ‘Information Technology Law: The law and society’ by Andrew Murray. Interestingly, the author proposes that this area of Law differs from others in one important way.
“The question at the heart of most legal textbooks is: ‘how does the rule of law affect individuals within the environment over which this law is effective?’”. However IT Law is, by necessity, the other way around. Namely, it asks ‘How does the web affect the law?’, rather than how the law effects the web. This is because technology changes so quickly that the rule of law cannot keep up. Instead, old laws must be interpreted to deal with new situations.
This presents a small challenge for me as a novice trying to understand the basics of Law through it’s application to the web. If Murray is right, and IT law is an inherently atypical topic within Law, it won’t generalise to other topics and so I’m bound to get a warped idea of what Law is. However, by reading up on some of the basic concepts, terminology and key statutes etc., I should be able to develop an understanding of how my topic can be approached from a legal standpoint – even if that approach is slightly different to that taken by legal scholars working in other areas.
With that in mind I’ve also been trying to familiarise myself with the basics of Jurisprudence, the theory or philosophy of Law. I’ve chosen to look at this first for two reasons. The first is partly down to intellectual cowardice: given my philosophical background, it should be less of a challenge than other aspects of Law. Second, and more importantly, I think Jurisprudence will be an important aspect of understanding my topic. The Wikipedia entry for Jurisprudence divides it into two areas:
1.) Problems internal to law and legal systems as such.
2.) Problems of law as a particular social institution as it relates to the larger political and social situation in which it exists.
Because my topic is about the way an aspect of law (intellectual property) relates to a social phenomenon (information goods on the web), the second area is particularly relevant to me.
Within this area, there are several approaches to understanding what drives the law. The oldest tradition is ‘Natural Law theory’, the dominant position for much of the history of jurisprudence. According to its proponents, man-made laws are attempts to reflect or approximate natural moral laws. These are moral truths which exist independently of human judgement or reasoning. They could be understood by theists as derived from a deity, or by atheists as simply a feature of reality. The important point is that our man-made laws should reflect these pre-institutional moral realities. Indeed, if they do not, they aren’t real laws at all. A common maxim of natural law theory is ‘lex injusta non est lex’; an unjust law is not a (real) law.
An example of natural law theory in action today can be seen in the idea of universal human rights. According to their proponents, human rights exist independently whether or not there are man-made laws protecting them; indeed, they are most important where such laws are absent. There is also an understanding amongst human rights advocates that man-made laws should approximate these independently existing moral rights.
Legal Positivism is now the dominant position amongst legal theorists. Unlike Natural Law theory, it does not assume that man-made laws must approximate independent moral laws. Rather, it splits the question in two. Whether or not a law is valid depends on how it was formulated, whether it went through the socially sanctioned systems and processes put in place to create laws. This is not the same as the question of whether or not, morally speaking, it is a just law. A law might be valid, having gone through the appropriate formulation, but we might judge it to be unjust according to some non-legal moral standard. For instance, homophobic or racist laws may be valid in the context of a particularly time and place, but this doesn’t mean they aren’t wrong, morally speaking. Conversely a law might be invalid because, for instance, it contradicts a state’s constitution, but this doesn’t mean it is not a good law, morally speaking.
This distinction between the institutional validity and moral worth of a law may prove important in debates about content on the web. Online ‘piracy’ may be morally wrong, or it may simply be illegal. Likewise, certain uses of information goods on the web may not be illegal, but nevertheless morally wrong. Parties on different sides of the piracy debate frequently allude to both moral and legal considerations – usually adopting whichever is strongest in a particular context. And since most legal theorists adopt some kind of positivist approach, and few adopt the natural law approach, assessments of intellectual property on the web do not usually take the form of moral arguments.
The web has changed the way we consume content, and I want to investigate this change through the disciplines of Economics and Law. There are several related questions I hope to address.
How has the law evolved (or not) in response to the shift from print to web-based media? How and why has consumer behaviour changed with regards to content on the web? How do the two relate to each other? Is the current intellectual property regime in inevitable conflict with the economic decisions of content consumers?
I’m going to start by reading some textbooks. So far (with thanks to Alison), I have begun to leaf through Information Technology Law, by Andrew Murray (in particular, Part III: “Digital Content and Intellectual Property Rights”). I imagine that after attempting to read the whole IT law textbook I’ll end up having to get some more basic understanding of the law from additional sources. I’m also hoping to get in contact with some people who Alison recommended, namely:
- Professor Steve Saxby (head of IT law research in Southampton)
- Laura German (2nd year Phd Web Science, from a Law background)
- Dr Roksana Moore (who gives lectures on IT law this term)
As for economics, I’m going to read the straightforwardly titled Economics, by Paul Samuelson and William Nordhaus (apparently a classic introductory textbook). I also have Modern Industrial Organization, Dennis W. Carlton, Jeffrey M. Perloff, in particular, Chapter 16: “Patents and Technological Change”, again thanks to Alison.
Finally, because my interest is in consumer behaviour and economic decision-making with regards to the consumption of digital content, I would also like to look at ‘behavioural economics’. An Introduction to Behavioral Economics, by Nick Wilkinson and Matthias Klaes, will hopefully give me the relevant background. I also hope to get in contact with Professor David Gill from Southampton’s Economics department, who specialises in behavioural economics.
Ethical and technical issues in collecting data on the web for social sciences research. no comments
My idea is that every sciences are, at least, define by their object but also by their methodology. For now, sociology and psychology used the same methods on the web than for other subject. But the web offers the possibility to collect and analyses other kind of data than is allowed, for example, by experimentation in lab or by collecting information in traditional ethnography methodology. I think it will be very interesting to see how the among of data, their availability and their representativeness could modified the methods to collect and analyse them.
I want to emphazis on two aspecst, ethical and technical.
About the ethical issues to collect data which are still unclear if it is public or private (or any other conceptions). This point will be more linked with law and understand which is allowed or not in collecting information about users.
The technical aspect will try to see and understand which kind of tools are already available to collect datas, but also which are their limits and what is possible to analyse the information.
Note: this is a working draft, small changes to the brief will probably occur as research is done.
In order to keep these topics relevant to possible future work and research, the disciplines which will be summarised shall have tangible links to the topic of Linked Data.
A suitable and very current web phenomenon, linked data provides a new platform for society to share and creeat new information in much the same way as the original web. Understanding how this may effect various parts of our lives may help us guides its and the standard web’s development. However this requires some form of knowledge of the areas/relevant theories it may effect.
The disciplines that shall be explored are Law and Politics.
Law is a concern as new technologies such as linked data may offer new challenges to copyright, privacy and the standard raft of web based policies and laws. A key example of this is how the data.gov.uk linked data service prompted the creation of a new form of creative commons license for government data which is aligned to the Attribution 3.0 Unported license.
Key topics for law include:
- Copyright and IPR
- Confidentiality and Privacy
- Law and the web (how the above translate into practice on the web)
Politics is relevant as governments attempt to use new technologies such as linked data to improve their key services as well as increase public opinion. Government linked data effort
Key topics for Politics:
- Core government structure, services and aims
- Transparency and openness
- Policy making, the processes involved
Sources to follow. Look out for a revision on the key topics also.